I’ve been fired.
I’m not talking about being caught up in a massive layoff where hundreds or even thousands of people are let go, though that’s devastating in its own right.
For the moment, though, I’m talking about a center-of-the-bullseye targeted firing. When it feels personal, and probably is.
In his book, On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace, Dave Grossman explains that a universal phobia is the fear of interpersonal human aggression: “When the causal factor of a stressor is human, the degree of trauma is amplified…as compared with stress resulting from random events such as natural disasters and traffic accidents.”
Basically, being fired can feel as painful and terrifying as being killed. Crazy, right?
Maybe you’ve been there. Or, maybe you’ll be there in the future.
As I’ve analyzed my own experience and talked to a lot of people who’ve been fired, I’ve realized that what felt like an ending was actually a beginning.
Let me explain: We balk at acknowledging it but, in most cases, by the time we’re fired, we’ve already been done for some time.
Occasionally, we’re let go because we’ve exhausted our potential in a particular role, and no one, including ourselves, has found a suitable new challenge for us to transition to. More often, being fired is clear evidence that we’re working on the wrong career curve to begin with.
You’ve possibly realized that you’re not playing to your strengths. Or, that at every turn you’re blocked by overwhelming constraints. A day of work may leave you debilitated, exhausted, frustrated, or discouraged. Not only are you not gaining traction or gathering momentum in your role, but the fear of failure is your constant companion on this ride, rather than the thrill of trying and learning new things.
If this is the case, you’re most definitely on the wrong curve. If you were in your right mind, you would jump.
But, it can be extremely difficult to leave our jobs, especially when we don’t have any particular next opportunity on the hook. There’s often children and family to consider, mortgages and bills to be paid. Compensation and benefits can keep us paralyzed in place when we really need to take action and find a better position for ourselves.
The discomfort of change and fear of the unknown also hinder us. We grieve the death of what we thought at one time was our dream job or ideal career path. Instead of leaving on our own volition, we hesitate—that is, until we get fired.
Doing nothing is doing something, as it turns out.
Regardless of how or why a firing occurred, circumstances have given you the chance to jump to a new, and better, curve.
As we all know (at least in theory), failure is one of our most influential educators, and can almost always be turned into an advantage. Best-selling author James Altucher has become a unique voice on this topic, writing about his own career setbacks in a way that others can connect and be encouraged. On my podcast, he says:
That first bounce back was brutal, and so what I hoped with my writing was by admitting that, it gives people permission to realize that ‘Oh, this has happened to people. It’s not like…my life is over.’
In fact, the opposite is true.
Here’s an example: A practice familiar to farmers almost everywhere is agricultural burning, or the firing of fields after harvest or in the spring to clear the ground for a new season. The same is true in forestry—no one questions that fire is a friend of the forest in many ways.
The giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada, for example, are not only the most impressive of all tree species—they’re the largest living things on the planet—but they’re also dependent on fire: “Sequoias rely on fire to release most seeds from their cones, to expose bare mineral soil in which seedlings can take root, to recycle nutrients into the soil, and to open holes in the forest canopy through which sunlight can reach young seedlings.” Without a periodic fire, the majestic sequoia would cease to exist.
A firing feels like an end, but really, it’s a hopeful stepping stone or a new beginning—in nature, and in the sometimes less natural places like the workplace. Firing clears the way for something fresh to take hold, and ultimately, an opportunity to grow.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of person thinking courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.
Whitney Johnson is a former Institutional Investor-ranked equity analyst on Wall Street, who is hoping you will identify your strengths sooner in life than she did. She is the author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work and Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream (2012). Follow her on twitter at @johnsonwhitney.More from this Author